“And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.”
Luke 15:20 ESV
After the prodigal son comes to himself in Luke 15:17, he heads home to beg his father to forgive him and take him back and hire him as a servant. That’s when love moved first.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt com- passion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20).
The picture is that of a loving father who not only didn’t turn away from his wayward son but also didn’t even pause to ask a word about where the son had been or what he had done. He simply fell on his neck and kissed him.
His boy was home.
Even when the prodigal wanted to go home, it never entered his mind that he would be anything more than slave. That’s strange. Did his dad ever do anything to communicate that message? Certainly not, but the prodigal knew what he deserved and knew what he probably would do if the roles were reversed:
“Well, if I were dad I tell you what I’d do. I’d tell my son, ‘You get off my property, and maybe, just maybe, you can hang around outside of the gate for a few weeks. I’ll let you know if I’m going to let you in.’”
We think the same way. We assume God is like us. We assume God loves like we love. We assume his anger is like ours. We assume his patience is like ours, and no one is more dangerous than a Christian who’s right. We have power when we’re right, and we fantasize of showing people exactly who we’d be if we were in control. We would rain down fire, and people who wronged us would be toast.
The prodigal based his picture of the father upon what he knew he deserved and what he would do if he were the authority. He didn’t see any way back to the father because the father owed him nothing. The son already had taken everything coming to him after his dad liquidated assets. He even may have put his dad in debt just to go off and do his thing. He figured his father could never forgive him and take him back without severe retribution.
When you’re not in the Word for yourself, you have to figure out God by yourself. In my darkest times, I thought, “There’s no way to get back to him. I’ve already done everything I ever learned you’re not supposed to do. It just doesn’t seem like there’s a way.”
And that’s when the hopelessness came.
In such moments, we have to remember the runaway’s father. When the prodigal was a long way off, the father came running. It was socially unacceptable and unmanly for men to run in Palestine. The father’s actions would’ve left Jesus’ hearers stunned and even offended as he told this story.
But love doesn’t care. Love always moves first.
Have you ever been so far away from God that you felt he could never welcome you back? As you reflect on the actions of the father in the story of the prodigal son, do you remember the time you tasted God’s forgiveness and felt his grace wash over you? What similarities do you see between your story and that of the prodigal son?
Are you withholding forgiveness and grace from someone? Knowing God’s Word says we are to forgive others even as we are forgiven, how should you respond toward the person and circumstances the Holy Spirit has brought to your mind in these moments?